LYTHAM ST ANNES, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Ernie Els of South Africa watches his tee shot on the first hole during the first round of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club on July 19, 2012 in Lytham St Annes, England. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Golf’s two world governing bodies have been warned they face long and expensive legal battles if, as expected, they outlaw controversial long-handled and belly putters.

The US Golf Association, who run the game in North America, and the St Andrews-based R&A, who govern the rest of the world, have said they will make a decision before March next year.

But two top players, who in the past 15 months have won majors with unconventional putters, believe the issue will only be resolved in the courts.

Ernie Els, who won The Open in the summer with a belly putter, said: ‘These are people’s livelihoods. You ask the guys who have never putted the conventional way not to go and use the belly putter, and they are going to struggle.’

American Keegan Bradley, who was the first major winner using a long handle when he took the 2011 US PGA, said: ‘I’m going to do whatever I have to do to protect myself and the other players on tour.’

Last night, on the eve of the HSBC Champions WGC at Mission Hills in China, Els admitted he had started practising again with a short-handled putter, anticipating that a ban will be introduced.

But he remains staunchly opposed to the governing bodies singling out the unconventional putters for legislation when there are many modern clubs on the market that buck tradition.

Els said: ‘If they want to be custodians of the game then that is one thing, but then why allow 60-degree wedges and hybrids into the game?

‘Guys are going to argue this decision just for the reasons I’ve mentioned and because there are guys who have putted with nothing but the belly putter.’

Bradley said: ‘It’s the way we’ve always practised and made our living. I find it harsh.’ – Daily Mail